How an ambitious Nazi spy operation in the US ended in failure

Norden bombsightBy IAN ALLEN | |
A well-researched article in The Chicago Tribune revisits one of the least known covert action episodes of World War II, which involved an ambitious Nazi espionage operation on US soil. The article, written by Ron Grossman, centers on Herbert Haupt, one of several American citizens and Nazi sympathizers, who were involved in the ruse. The German-born Haupt grew up in Chicago’s North Side and was working in West Garfield Park, at a factory that produced parts used for the Norden bombsight. The Norden bombsight was a sophisticated device that calculated the trajectory of a bomb dropped by an airplane, based on real-time flight conditions; moreover, it was connected to the aircraft’s autopilot, and was thus able to alter bomb trajectories according to changes in the wind, altitude, aircraft speed, or other effects. The Norden bombsight facilitated unprecedented bombing accuracy from high altitudes, and was thus rightly considered one of America’s most highly valued military secrets. In 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II, Haupt took a leave of absence from his factory job and disappeared from the streets of Chicago’s North Side. It was later revealed that he traveled to Mexico City and presented himself at the German embassy there, offering to conduct espionage work for Nazi Germany. After securing a sum of money from German embassy officials, Haupt sailed to Japan and eventually made his way to Germany. A few months later, he illegally re-entered the US, sailing on a German U-boat that landed secretly in Florida carrying four German agents, all fluent English speakers. A second U-boat, carrying another four German agents, had landed almost simultaneously on Long Island. Haupt’s mission was to reenlist at the Norden bombsight factory in Chicago, so as to provide Nazi Germany with access to the top-secret device. However, unbeknownst to him, the second U-boat had been spotted by an officer of the US Coast Guard stationed on Long Island. Although he was bribed by the German agents to keep quiet, he reported the incident to the FBI, which soon arrested the German agents. Intelligence extracted through interrogations, led the FBI to Haupt, who was arrested in Chicago on June 27, 1942. Eventually, all eight German spies were tried at a closed-door military tribunal in Washington, DC. Two were given life sentences, in exchange for testifying against their colleagues, while the remaining six –including Haupt– were sentenced to death. The death sentences were carried out on August 8 in DC. Haupt’s parents, two uncles, and two family friends, were among several other US citizens charged with treason in connection with the case. Haupt was 22 years old at the time of his death.

3 Responses to How an ambitious Nazi spy operation in the US ended in failure

  1. AlbertE. says:

    This article was NOT as well written as claimed. Saw the article the day it was n the paper and not so impressed. The writer, the retired history professor left out some important points and probably did so for reason. NO emphasis that from the time the saboteurs were caught and tried until they were executed was about two weeks period. And done so with haste at the behest of FDR who wanted and DEMANDED that his wishes for a quick and speedy trial and execution be done in haste. This case of the German saboteurs is the basis for declaring these captured Al Qaeda terrorists as UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANTS AND SUBJECT TO MILITARY TRIBUNALS. UNLAWFUL that word that the media so conveniently leaves on on purpose. Bush and his lawyers refer to the case as the basis for the legal standing of Gitmo tribunals and the detention of those held at the facility. It seems that what was good for the German should also be good for the Al Qaeda terrorist as precedent is such an important aspect of American law. But so many disagree and that is why this “Professor” has left out certain crucial aspects of the CASE.

  2. intelNews says:

    AlbertE, are you sure that this case served as a precedent for the Bush administration? I was under the impression that John Yoo used the example of 18th-century pirates to justify his legal memos. [IA]

  3. Anonymous says:

    they specifically cited the German trials both in public and in court- the pirates were a separate issue for the most part but also used to buttress the legal arguments-

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